Will Cortana and Facebook M Hurt Your Virtual Assistant Business?

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If you’ve been paying attention, there are some new players to the virtual assistant world. Yes, even more virtual than someone that doesn’t live in your city. I’m talking about electronic virtual assistants. Dare I say it, we’ve gone even more tech. But what does this mean for those of us who make a living assisting others from a distance?


 Let’s Talk About Tech {Baby!}

[I think I’m showing my age with that song pun there, so if you don’t get it…go back to 1991 and check out what I’m talking about!]

Over the last couple of years, the world has gone tech-crazy. From grocery shopping (there’s an app for that), to paying your bills (there’s an app for that), to ordering takeout (there’s an app for that!) – there is pretty much an app for everything. We’ve got information assistants like Siri and the newest Alexa, Amazon Echo, and Google Now. They can tell you lots of internet based information and Alexa can even add items to your grocery list, set timers or re-order items from your Amazon account  (I {heart} her by the way).


Cortana has been rolled out on Windows devices, Xbox One (limited features) and soon to be iOS and Android devices. So what is Cortana exactly? Windows states:

“Cortana is your clever new personal assistant. Cortana will help you find things on your PC, manage your calendar, track packages, find files, chat with you, and tell jokes. The more you use Cortana, the more personalized your experience will be.”

Currently, Cortana is only available in certain countries/regions, and some Cortana features might not be available everywhere. So, it seems that right now, Cortana, Alexa and Siri are limited in the tasks that they can actually “do” in the real world.

Facebook M

M is a tool inside Facebook’s Messenger app built with an advanced artificial intelligence engine and trained by Facebook engineers. M, as compared to all of the other AI tools, seems to be a bit more advanced and can do a wide range of tasks – I suspect more is in the making.

“Along with being able to look up information for you, M’s real stand-out feature is that it actually will assist you in tasks affecting the physical world. If you give M permission, it will buy things online and deliver them, make reservations for traveling, restaurants or any kind of appointment.”

It can perform tasks that none of the others can, in addition to using artificial intelligence to complete its tasks, M is powered by actual people. M is still in the testing phase – being tested by internal employees, so you may not see it in your Messenger app just yet. And since there are still real people standing close by making sure the really complicated requests get handled, that lets me know it’s not quite perfect.

It sounds like M might actually be on the verge of giving virtual assistants a run for their money. But hold on, don’t turn off your phones and shut down your websites yet.

The Future of Virtual Assistants

My verdict: These are nifty little tools to have, but as of now, I don’t think they can replace a wonderful, proactive virtual assistant. Sure they can add things to your calendar and tell jokes, but for clients that are really busy and have a lot of tasks they need to juggle, these tools cannot handle the load. By all means, try it out for a few personal tasks, but I wouldn’t entrust your whole business to an Artificial Intelligence app just yet.

The virtual assistants I know are very in tune with their clients’ needs and I think as VAs, maybe we could use apps like these to take care of the mundane tasks for us (like waiting on hold for Comcast). That would give us more opportunity to explore other creative avenues or spend our brain power on more intricate requests. In my opinion, there is nothing like the personal touch and some people will never get used to the idea of a computer running their lives. Should your clients give them a try anyways? Sure, but I know they’ll be calling you back next week.

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